There is a day or month to celebrate just about everything, so why not pizza. Pizza month first began in 1987. Do you have any idea how many slices of pizza the average American eats a year? On average, a person in the U.S. eats about 23 pounds, or 46 slices,of pizza each year. At any given second, 350 slices of pizza, or 100 acres, are being consumed. Pizza is a $30 billion industry nationally, with more than 60,000 pizza parlors operating. According to a recent Gallup Poll, children ages 3–11 prefer pizza over all other foods when given a choice for lunch or dinner.
The most popular pizza topping: pepperoni. The least popular: anchovies. Gourmet pizza toppings include items such as oysters, dandelions, tuna, venison, duck, artichoke hearts, Cajun shrimp and crayfish. Pizza chefs have tried everything from peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs to mashed potatoes. Pizza toppings in Japan include squid. In India, you can get pickled ginger, minced mutton or tofu. In Brazil, ask for green peas. Russians like a mixture of sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon and onions called mockba. My favorite pizza boasts toppings of pineapple, onion and green pepper. I never have to be concerned that anyone is going to eat my leftovers.
The most popular days for ordering pizza are: Super Bowl Sunday, Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Since we eat so much pizza in this country, it has a major impact on our weight and our health. Normally, pizza isn’t thought of as part of a healthy diet because it often is high in total fat, saturated fat, sodium and calories. A typical slice of pizza usually has at least 300 calories.
Pizza, however, can be a healthy food. If you decide to make pizza at home, you have more control over the ingredients and quantity of the toppings. A good beginning is to start with a whole wheat crust, which you can purchase pre-made or make your own. Whole grains add dietary fiber, which keeps you feeling full longer and helps keep your digestive tract healthy.
Tomato sauce is an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps prevent some chronic diseases. Be liberal with the sauce.
Limit the amount of cheese that you put on your pizza. Cheese is a great source of calcium but a lot of the calories in pizza come from the cheese. Lower fat cheeses are available that can help cut down on the calories and saturated fat.
Avoid using processed meats such as pepperoni and sausage. Both are high in fat. If you want added protein in addition to the cheese, try chicken, shrimp or Canadian bacon.
Add lots of vegetables (and maybe some fruit). Onions, peppers, mushrooms, olives, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pineapple . . . the list is endless. These items are nutritious and low in calories. Preparing homemade pizza together as a family can be a fun activity. While the pizza is cooking, make a tossed salad to accompany it.
When ordering pizza at a restaurant – choose the thin crust and avoid crust stuffed with extra cheese.
Try something out of the ordinary:
Thai Chicken Pizza
Makes 6 servings
20 ounces prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
¼ cup smooth natural peanut butter
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon canola oil
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and diced
1 red pepper, diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
⅔ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
For some added flavor add chopped peanuts, crushed red pepper and/or thinly sliced basil.
Place oven rack in the lowest position; preheat to 450 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
Roll out or stretch dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough 16-inch oval. Transfer to the baking sheet. Bake on the bottom rack until puffed and lightly crisped on the bottom, 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk peanut butter, water, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and garlic in a small bowl until well combined.
Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring, until cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add bell pepper, scallions and 1 tablespoon of the peanut sauce to the chicken; toss to combine.
Remove the crust from the oven; spread evenly with the remaining peanut sauce. Top with the chicken mixture, then sprinkle with cheese. Return the pizza to the oven and bake on the bottom rack until the crust is crispy and golden and the cheese is melted, 11 to 13 minutes.
Nutrition Per serving: 355 calories; 9 g fat ( 2 g sat , 1 g mono ), 42 g carbohydrates, 20 g protein, 3 g fiber, 447 mg sodium
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College and lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.